The Hmong and the Secret War

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hmong Weddings

A Hmong wedding is a time of celebration as two families unite. It is usually an entire weekend celebration that begins and ends at the groom’s house. It is a long but joyous occasion for the families and the couple.

Before a wedding is set according to customs and traditions, the groom has already taken the bride home for a few days. A quick ritual welcoming her into the family blesses the arrival of the bride. The groom’s side of the family would send some elders as representatives to the bride’s parent’s house a few days later and inform her parents that their daughter is safe with their “son”. When the representatives are sent to the bride’s parent’s house, they bring some form of tobacco and refreshment as appreciation and the start of a new relationship amongst the two families.

Depending on the families, the wedding can take place right away, or when the bride’s parents decide on a date. The first wedding ceremony takes place at the groom’s parents’ residence. A feast is prepared as elders, relatives, and friends of the groom’s side come to congratulate them. As the first feast is coming to an end, the bride, along with the green lady (maid of honor) chosen from the groom’s side, are clothed into traditional Hmong attire before they head over to the bride’s parents’ house. The wedding party that arrives at the bride’s parents’ house consists of the bride, groom, green lady, best man, and two to four elder representatives on the groom’s behalf.

The arrival of the wedding party begins the second feast with the negotiation of the bridal price. The bridal price is the assurance that the groom and his side of the family will take care of the bride and thank her parents for her upbringing. The negotiation process can last a few hours as different factors are taken into place, such as: ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, if the groom has done anything that was unacceptable or wrong to the bride’s side of the family, and history among the two families that may conflict their future life.

When a negotiation has been settled, the groom’s side pays the dowry of the bride and the second feast continues. The second feast is the most important part of the wedding, for the groom shows his respect for the bride and her family as he and the best man bow to every immediate and close male from her side. This is also the time the groom, best man, and representatives build a strong relationship with the bride’s family. Drinks are passed around among the men in the room, especially to the groom and the best man, blessing and welcoming the new relationship formed.

Strings are tied onto the hands of the bride, groom, best man and green lady along with gifts given to them. The strings tied on the bride and groom are offered with words of wisdom and encouragement of their new life and the strings tied on the best man and green lady are tied to support and take care of the bride and groom.

As the men are at the table building the new relationship and giving respect, the green lady is like a bodyguard and spy of the bride. The green lady ‘s job is to follow the bride wherever she goes and makes sure that the bride does not run away, cheat, or meet with any old boyfriends that may come to interject the wedding. From personal experience, being the green lady is not the overbearing snitch a lot of people envision her to be. The green lady is mainly there just to help the bride with the work that is being done to prepare the feast and to make sure she has all of her things when returning back to the groom’s parents’ house.

As the wedding party leaves the bride’s parents’ house, they return with gifts given to the new couple from the bride’s parents and relatives. The arrival and last feast at the groom’s parents’ house is a celebratory party to end the wedding, as the bride has officially become their daughter-in-law (nyab).

Traditional Hmong weddings have been adapted to fit the generations now. In some cases, some or none of the traditions or customs is adapted in the weddings. The variation of how the wedding is conducted depends on the groom’s family as the bride becomes a part of his family/clan and is no longer part of her parent’s family/clan.

Traditional and Adopted Hmong Funeral Practices

Hmong funeral ceremonies are a time of mourning and celebrating the deceased’s life. Funerals vary and can range from three to twelve days, depending on the individual and other variables. For traditional Hmong families, the funeral process is longer and more complex than the Hmong families who have converted into Christianity.

Traditional Hmong funeral process consists of:

·      The sacrificial animal ceremony
·      The beating of the Hmong drum
·      Playing of the Hmong flute
·      The sacred song
·      The deceased dressed in traditional Hmong attire
·      Burning of incenses and paper money

All are used to help guide the deceased to his/her ancestors in the spirit world. The descendants of the deceased usually prepare the sacrificial animal ceremony, as they provide enough to feasts the guests who come to pay homage towards the decease. As the funeral is taking place, the descendants are called upon to take incense and bow to the deceased. The incense bowing is used to help send the deceased off to the other world and reflect on when the deceased was still alive with them.  Descendants hold many responsibilities, as they also are to fold paper money that would later be lit for the deceased. The burning of the paper money is so the deceased would have money to take care of him/herself in the spirit world.  

During the ceremonial process, an immediate female family member is alongside guarding the deceased’s casket at all times to ensure that nothing happens. Because there have been stories of people attending funerals to go and take the soul or bodily parts of the deceased, a family member is stationed as a watch guard of guests that go to view the deceased in the open casket.

On the final day before the burial has taken place, the shaman along with an individual who plays the Hmong flute known as the “qeej” will lead the deceased’s spirit out of the funeral home to join his/her ancestors. The shaman tosses two horns against the wall to determine whether or not the deceased will leave for the spirit world, this process must be repeated until the two horns both face up, indicating that the deceased’s spirit is leaving on its journey to the spirit world. The deceased is usually said to be riding a black horse to join his/her relative in the after-life. The truth is that the black horse that the deceased rides to join his/her ancestors is the horse of death that sends the decease, as some describe it, into the pits of hell.

The adopted Christian Hmong funerals are much simpler when compared to the traditional ones. Not only is it simpler, but also the representation of the process sends a different meaning. In a Christian Hmong funeral, the ceremony also takes three days, but does not last the full 24 hours a day and the deceased is dressed in all white or the color of the family’s preference. Each day is broken up into sessions of church services that are dedicated to remembering the deceased. Unlike traditional funerals, the doors are locked up each night as family and guests leave and reopened the following morning. The process is to hope and be wishful that the deceased is led to the gates of heaven rather than down into hell.

The beliefs of the Hmong people have varied among families, causing the customs and traditions to change. Hmong funerals are construed differently, being polar opposites from traditional to Christian adaptation.